Angelina Cummings’s Jamaican rum cake has been made by her family for generations, and she’s been baking her own version from her Sheffield kitchen for 20 years now. But it wasn’t until May 2020 that she and her husband started packaging it in slices to sell online. And the product sold like, well, hot cakes.
Within the first month, their company, Olga & Asquith Products, had orders for 600 slices from across the UK. It’s an achievement she believes wouldn’t have been possible without movements such as Black Lives Matter and Black Pound Day. The latter celebrates its first birthday on 27 June.
Falling on the first Saturday of each month – that is 5 June this month – Black Pound Day encourages consumers to spend their money locally, or online, at black-led businesses (defined as anyone who identifies as black, and including companies with non-black co-owners). “It encourages all communities to replace their usual purchases with products from black-led businesses … with the hope that spending black will become a normalised practice throughout the year,” say the organisers.
The Black Pound Day website lets you search for participating businesses in its online directory and marketplace, and promotes them on social media. There are more than 1,500 taking part across a range of categories, from clothing, footwear and gifts to food and drink and health and wellness.
Cummings, the majority of whose customers are black, believes the day has made the black community – historically economically disadvantaged – more conscious about where they spend their money, and empowered them to use consumerism as a means of enabling change.
“Instead of just spending it with bigger establishments and corporations that monopolise certain sectors, it’s about giving everyone an opportunity to make money,” she says. “When you make money you invest it back into your own community.”
She adds: “There’s a very small percentage of black-owned businesses in the UK. There needs to be more, but the only way that’s going to happen is if we spend the money. Only then will we grow.”
Black entrepreneurs and business owners face multiple challenges, however. On top of a multibillion-pound ethnic pay gap, black people are more likely to lack savings or assets, and black-owned companies less likely to get funding. A 2020 report from Runnymede, the UK thinktank on race equality and race relations, found that for every £1 of white British wealth, black Caribbean households had about 20p, and black African households about 10p. But Black Pound Day is having a demonstrable positive impact. The first event generated an additional £61,940 worth of receipts uploaded to the website.
For Zuleika Philips, the founder of London-based Pleasure Drum, Black Pound Day is still its best sales day. She says the company, which makes African-themed wellness products for women, sells an average of 10 of its pelvic-strengthening products a week. That soars to 60 or 70 on Black Pound Day.
She says the event is as important and necessary in 2021 as it was at the height of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.
“Because of the inequality of wealth, the black community is still very immature in coming to market and creating our own businesses,” she says, adding: “We’re trying to get ourselves out the door, and we need that support from the community to be able to grow.
“Supporting black-owned businesses is similar to the choice between the local high street versus the large supermarket. We just want to get a few customers, and we’re willing to make significant changes and differences to our offering and to our pricing to be able to do that.”
But what happens once the urgent debate around racial inequality and injustice quietens down? Black Pound Day’s founder, Swiss – a member of the garage collective So Solid Crew – believes the event can, and will, exist separately over time.
He came up with the idea 12 years ago after having noticed a lack of support for black shops while growing up in Battersea, south London, in the 1990s, and says targeted spending at black-owned businesses once a month will eventually become a habit among consumers. But he expects it will take at least three years for Black Pound Day to establish itself on people’s calendars.
“I did wonder whether to do it as a yearly event, like Small Business Saturday, but I felt the disparities and systemic inequalities we face as a community now, and have faced in the past, meant we needed an event that was regular and consistent enough to offset some of those imbalances,” he says.
“I want it to become a national day and represent a turnaround for our community. I expect it to facilitate generational wealth eventually, in some way, shape or form, as we continue to pour back into our community.”
He believes it is a brand that large corporations outside the community can also engage with and support. They have already formed a successful partnership with Google, which is providing mentoring and digital skills training for businesses registered with Black Pound Day. Meanwhile, another partnership, with Soho House, is giving 12 black-owned companies a year’s club membership.
As the UK recovers from the pandemic – a crisis that people of colour have borne the economic brunt of – Swiss believes the best way to help is by spending at businesses within those communities.
Comparing the role of black businesses in helping the UK “build back better” today to the Windrush generation, he says: “We came from the Caribbean to fill the holes left in the workforce as a result of the second world war … we helped turn the economy around.
“The big ‘give back’ in this day and age is to support a community which, through its businesses, again wants to help this country turn itself around. If that’s not a good reason to spend on Black Pound Day, I don’t know what is.”
What a difference a day makes
Folasayo Williams is the founder of Sheni and Teni, a children’s books and puzzles brand that aims to represent her own and other African cultures. She says: “On the first Black Pound Day, I got more orders in one day than I had for a whole month. I had to go to the post office with a big suitcase full of stock to deliver to customers.
“I wasn’t expecting it. I was humbled that people had gone out of their way to look for and spend money on products like mine. I felt hopeful and empowered by it.”